Is the Telegraph withholding emails that could help the inquiry into child abuse?

Tom Watson MP

Tom Watson MP

Thanks today go to Vox Political commenter concernedkev, who brought this writer’s attention to a piece by Labour MP Tom Watson. It’s self-explanatory so here it is:

I have had cause to write to [the Telegraph] about a disturbing allegation shared with me by Chris Bryant MP. They just ignored me.

My letter was prompted by a conversation I had with Chris. He told me that he’d had lunch at the Quirinale restaurant with Telegraph political correspondent Matthew Holehouse. [We won’t quote this part because there is a direct quote from Mr Bryant later in the piece, as follows:] “Matthew Holehouse told me at lunch at Quirinale that he had been accidentally included in a series of email exchanges between senior figures at Conservative Central Office who were speculating about which Labour sitting MPs were paedophiles and how they should deploy this ‘information’. Matthew seemed to think that this showed that CCHQ was run by a bunch of children and he said it was worse than Damian McBride. He reckoned the paper would be running the story later that week, unless the powers that be intervened. I asked him which senior figures were involved. He said ‘very senior’, but refused to elaborate. He also refused to tell me which Labour MPs were speculated about. He didn’t believe that any of the emails’ allegations were anything other than nasty vindictiveness and an attempt to smear Labour MPs.”

When what he told me had sunk in I was furious. It showed that senior offices at CCHQ were either a; holding back vital intelligence from the police abuse inquiry or b; engaging in a smear campaign against their opponents. Either way, it showed appalling conduct.

I felt it needed addressing at a senior level in both the Conservative party and the Telegraph.

Here’s the letter I wrote to David Cameron about the matter on 26th January:

Dear Mr Cameron,

Child Abuse Allegations

As you know, the scandal of child sex abuse at every level of society, including in the highest reaches of political life, has caused deep distress to many thousands of sex abuse survivors. Your party, with others, has been arguing for a full, open inquiry into these matters and for the police to pursue perpetrators.

You have also rightly been among the first to deplore the fact that — amid the speculation that this scandal has caused — a number of individuals have found themselves the subject of baseless, hurtful and defamatory allegations, often spread in an irresponsible way on social media networks and by email. Just this weekend Lord Selwyn Gummer condemned online “innuendo” as “wicked”.

With the above in mind, I understand that there has been an email exchange between several members of staff at CCHQ in which the staff are reported to speculate about which sitting Members of Parliament might be paedophiles.

It is possible that it is a serious piece of investigative work. In which case I urge you to hand this evidence over to the police immediately, so that they can investigate -rather than keeping it in the confines of the party. You recently publicly declared that all documents held by party whips will be made available to the police. I trust the same is true of internal party emails.

If, however, it is a scurrilous and puerile attempt to smear sitting politicians, then that is a different but no less serious matter.

First, I am sure that you would consider it your duty to report the existence of such an email and the identities of those who originated and circulated it, in the same way that other instances of unfounded smears disseminated by political advisers have rightly been condemned by you in the past.

Second, I would hope you also see it as your duty privately to share the relevant material with the MPs who are mentioned in this email, so that they can take necessary legal action to protect their reputations if they want to do so.

I hope you would agree that it would be wholly inappropriate for you and party officials to sit on these emails and refuse either to confirm their existence, or inform those whom it defames. That would be a disservice to the public interest, it would further harm the proper process of getting to the truth of child sex abuse and it would damage your personal reputation.

I do not intend to publicise this letter at this stage, as I appreciate you may not be aware of this matter. I do not want to put undue pressure on you while you are investigating the issues I have raised and taking the necessary actions.

However, I look forward to hearing your response as a matter of urgency.

[Needless to say, he didn’t get an urgent response and had to write a follow-up letter which got the brush-off from Grant Shapps, Tory party co-chairman. He continues:]

We tried to chase up the Telegraph for a formal response but they kept ignoring us. I even asked my researcher to call the switchboard to ask for Robert Winnet’s mobile number but they refused to give it him. If I’m being honest, at this point I gave up. You can only fight so many battles.

Despite giving up I still think that Chris’s account of Holehouse’s allegations are in the public interest and would ordinarily have been jumped at by a newspaper editor.

When I read Peter Oborne’s article yesterday I felt I should at least explain that he was not alone. He did a brave thing and today he is being mocked by his former employers and others in the industry.

They’re closing ranks and trying to traduce the character of a respected journalist because he spoke truth to power like he’s supposed to, though on this occasion it was a powerful media mogul.

It’s not right.

You can read the full article (this is just an excerpt) here.

Withholding evidence is a serious offence. If the Telegraph does have this material, and does not intend to use it in a story, then its writers, editors and publishers may be accessories to the crimes of child sexual abuse to which they are said to relate; by holding them and not releasing them to the police, they would be allowing the perpetrators to remain at large.

That is criminal.

Follow me on Twitter: @MidWalesMike

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  1. nigelch February 18, 2015 at 12:53 pm - Reply

    Go for it Tom. We need to continue to shine light in these otherwise impenetrable corners. We really do need to get to the bottom of this.

  2. concernedkev February 18, 2015 at 12:56 pm - Reply

    Further to your comments Mike it is not just the Torygraph that could be culpable but the PM, Grant Shapps and CCHQ or anybody who have knowingly withheld evidence.

    • Mike Sivier February 18, 2015 at 1:46 pm - Reply

      I agree completely. The Torygraph was named in Tom Watson’s headline, and I wanted my article as closely aligned with his as possible.

  3. concernedkev February 18, 2015 at 6:33 pm - Reply

    Latest on Torygraph they have admitted that the emails exist but apparently playing it down as old hat re Jack Dromey and PIE etc. I don’t think we have heard the last on this one. Check Tom Watson’s FB page for latest.

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